The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Samit Basu

Close encounter

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco was in Delhi last week, and delivered a stellar solo performance in what was supposedly a panel discussion. It was the novelist/philosopher/linguist’s first visit to India, and provided an interesting insight on one of his pet theories ' the importance of background reading in cultural exchange. Marco Polo saw, during his travels in Asia and Africa, animals he thought were unicorns (though repeated attempts by virgins to capture them failed) because of fables he’d read. On closer examination, these turned out to be humble rhinoceroses, but Polo was telling his own truth. In an interview, Eco revealed his own background research on India was primarily Sandokan, the series of books by Emilio Salgari which were made into a cult TV serial starring Kabir Bedi. I wonder whether the swashbuckling anti-imperialist pirate of fiction successfully prepared Eco for his encounter with Delhi’s intellectuals.

An epical task

Philip Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials trilogy is being made into a film trilogy ' another mammoth task being undertaken by New Line studios, who created the LOTR films. And the man chosen to direct the first film, The Golden Compass (the American name for Northern Lights, the first book in the trilogy) is a British filmmaker named Anand Tucker ' who is half Indian by birth (his father’s surname was originally Thakkar) and whose latest film, Steve Martin starrer Shopgirl, was recently released abroad. Tucker had been pitching for the film, His Dark Materials for years, and impressed Pullman with his passion, ideas and knowledge of the story. His professed love for intelligently made melodrama should certainly help him visualise Pullman’s stirring fantasy epic.

The rumours are confirmed ' Johnny Depp will be playing Shantaram in the film adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ gut-wrenching page-turner. This makes it the fourth time he’s playing a drug addict, though.


Deceptive appearance

According to a recent survey in the UK, books are the newest form of snobbery ' a staggeringly high percentage of people buy books they have no intention of reading just to appear intelligent. This is nothing new ' college students in India carry unread books around to pull dates as well, but the phenomenon is nowhere near as widespread.

Fired up

Daniel Radcliffe

Publicity has already started for the fourth Harry Potter movie, Goblet of Fire, scheduled to be released next month ' though a folk group called the Wyrd Sisters in Winnipeg, Canada, has filed an attention-seeking lawsuit trying to delay the release on the grounds that the film uses their group’s name. But the rest of the world should get to see the incredibly fast-growing trio of heroes (makes Bollywood more believable, doesn’t it') on time. Shooting for Potter 5, Order of the Phoenix, begins next February; Vera Drake star Imelda Staunton has been approached to play the evil Professor Umbridge.



To Yogmata Japaki, a Buddhist Japanese woman who buried herself in an underground pit in Gwalior for three days to bring peace and order to earth. George Bush claims to be putting thousands underground for the same reason.

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